Saturday, January 28, 2017

Georgia's Camp Lawton: Archaeology students back on POW site to unlock mysteries

Work several years ago in presumed barracks area (GSU photo)

After a year and a half absence, archaeology students are back on the site of a Civil War prison near Millen, Ga. Their prime objective this year is to locate more evidence of the structures and features used by Confederate troops to guard 10,000 Federal soldiers.

Ryan McNutt, assistant professor of historical archaeology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, has been teaching newer students the proper use of metal detectors in the dappled light of Camp Lawton.

“For spring, our initial focus is on potential rifle pits around the earthworks of Lawton. This may expand to the potential barracks area, depending on progress and what we discover around the fort,” said McNutt.

The Confederate camp broke into the news in 2010 when federal, state and campus officials announced that its location had been confirmed and the site already was yielding a trove of artifacts. Lawton was only open for about six weeks in autumn 1864. It held POWs moved from Andersonville and other sites as Union troops moved into central and south Georgia after taking Atlanta.

A major challenge is the lack of photos and plans of the camp, and archaeologists working the site know very little about the location of Confederate structures.

McNutt met last year with officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources about long-term plans for surveying and excavating the pristine site.

Prisoner map of Camp Lawton (Library of Congress)

Why two agencies? The federal prisoners were in a stockade that extended to a hillside that later became part of a now-closed fish hatchery. The Rebel captors were based on the other side of a spring, in what is now Magnolia Springs State Park.

Field school students this spring (Jan. 13-April 28) and summer (May 15-June 16) will be focusing their efforts on the state side of the site. McNutt wants to them to concentrate on areas that may contain remnants of defense and support structures.

Camp Lawton was last excavated in summer 2015 by students working with then-project director Lance Greene, who left soon after for a teaching position at Wright State University in Ohio. That summer, they concentrated on the Federal area, continuing the excavation of a prisoner hut and brick oven. The gap in field work at the site from summer 2015 to this month was attributable to finding a new director and McNutt studying past analysis and plotting new and revised objectives.

Over three years, Greene and his students also excavated what may be the Confederate officers’ barracks, but were unable to identify other Rebel portions of the site, including where the enlisted men lived.

Harmonica reed found in possible barracks area (GSU photo)

Like Greene, McNutt is interested in understanding the difference in the quality of life and the relationship between prisoners and guards.

Students in the spring field school are only at Camp Lawton on Fridays. The summer session will be Monday-Friday.

“The summer field school will focus in the main on the barracks area itself, though this is tied to the information gathered this spring,” McNutt told the Picket.

Students are using metal detectors to search grids.

“If we find concentrations of period artifacts, or changes in soil color in holes where metal detector hits are excavated, these may be indicative of high-activity areas in the past, or surviving archaeological features under the plow zone. In this case, we'll examine them through small 1x1 meter units to determine what's going on,” McNutt said. “We can then continue excavating if it seems small enough to tackle for the spring field school, or record the location, photograph and map whatever is there, and then return in the summer.”

Ryan McNutt (left) explains metal detector techniques (GSU photo)

“The summer will be a mix of this metal detector survey, and excavation in 2x2 meter units of areas of interest, like a chimney fall and concentrations of potential Confederate artifacts in the barracks area initially investigated by Dr. Greene.”

Those interested will have an opportunity to witness the work or, on a few days, help out. Volunteer days are May 27, June 3 and June 10.

A public day will be held in late March or early April. McNutt said those interested can contact him to arrange a visit during either field school. “The park staff can direct any visitors to our work area, and someone will give them a tour and explain what's going on.”

Monday, January 23, 2017

Chickamauga, Shiloh, Vicksburg: Seminar to look at park histories and their roles today

Missouri monument at Vicksburg (NPS photo)

Ever-evolving views on monuments, battlefield preservation and Civil War memory will be covered in this year’s seminar held in conjunction with the Chickamauga Civil War Show.

"Written in Blood and Carved in Stone: Remembering the Civil War at Chickamauga, Shiloh and Vicksburg" is the title of the Feb. 4 Western Theater colloquium put on by the Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia. It’s set for 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Dalton Convention Center, 2211 Dug Gap Battle Road.

There’s a lot to tackle at the program, with three scholars looking at “how the nation's earliest military parks came into existence, how each contributed to the memory of the war, and how their commemoration of the historic landscape changed over time.”

First up (9:15 a.m.) will be Jim Ogden, chief historian at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. He will speak about that site in northwest Georgia and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Author Timothy B. Smith, who teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin, will focus on Shiloh (10 a.m.). Part of his talk will be about 150 years of battlefield preservation since the Civil War, he told the Picket.

His upcoming book, “Altogether Fitting and Proper: Civil War Battlefield Preservation in History, Memory, and Policy, 1861–2015” (University of Tennessee Press), according to one review, “combines a detailed accounting of federal, state, and private activity with an instructive critique of the role post-Civil War racism played in affecting and influencing various preservation efforts. Tim Smith reminds us, in very concrete ways, of the malleable nature of Civil War memory.”

Smith also writes about the conflict between preservationists and commercial developers, the evolution of public policy on the management of parks and the ways the conflict has been remembered over the years.

At 11 a.m., historian and curator Michael Panhorst will speak on '"Vicksburg National Military Park: The Art Park of the South."

“I plan to address how and why Vicksburg National Military Park was created, what it contributes to the memory of the war and how the park and its meaning have changed over time,” Panhorst said.

The author has written about the evolution of battlefield monuments. In an article for Essential Civil War Curriculum, Panhorst showed their emphasis went from remembering the fallen and survivors to, in many cases, reconciliation. He discusses how Southern states eventually began funding monuments. He notes the first battlefield monument to African-Americans was erected at Vicksburg in 2004.

Panhorst also has interest in the design, architecture and artistry of Civil War monuments. His 2015 work, “The Memorial Art and Architecture of Vicksburg National Military Park” (Kent State University Press) says most dedicated at the park by 1920 were built in the classical revival Beaux-Arts style.

The lectures will be followed by a discussion panel from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The talks in the lecture hall on the upper level of the trade center are free. To learn more about the colloquium or other Bandy Heritage Center programs, contact project director Brian Hilliard at or at (706) 272-4452.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paint it black: Restored locomotive Texas' color scheme will symbolize Atlanta's rise after war

(Photo: Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)
The decision has been made: The restored locomotive Texas – made famous in the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War – will return to a black paint scheme when it goes on display at its new home in Atlanta.

As the Picket reported in September, officials at the Atlanta History Center have been conducting historical research and analysis on the Texas as it was deciding what era of its history the locomotive should depict. A committee was tasked with making a recommendation.

“How can this engine best educate folks? What story do we want to tell with this engine?” Jackson McQuigg, vice president of properties at the AHC, said at the time.

The AHC said Wednesday that the Texas, built in 1856, will appear as it did “when it was the workhorse of the Western & Atlantic Railroad” from the 1880s and beyond. The locomotive and its tender will be primarily black. Since the 1930s and before the current restoration, the displayed Texas was festooned in places with brighter colors.

Howard Pousner, manager of media relations for the AHC, said some final paint detail decisions will be made soon. The locomotive will include the Western & Atlantic lettering and the name Texas.

"This still is a work in progress. Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to replicate the look of Russian iron for the boiler jacket, for instance," Pousner said. "And historic photos, which of course are black and white, have us leaning toward white lettering. But that’s not a final decision, either. The driver tires are likely to be white as well."

During its Grant Park days
The locomotive, which sat in the former Atlanta Cyclorama building in the Grant Park neighborhood for nearly 90 years, will be moved (along with the painting of the Battle of Atlanta) to the AHC campus in the Buckhead neighborhood.

Officials said they will stress the Texas' role in Atlanta's rise as a transportation hub and its involvement in the Great Locomotive Chase.

Craftsmen with Steam Operations Corp. have been conducting the restoration since December 2015. They have worked out of a large building at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.

The transportation museum announced Tuesday that the public will be able to see the restored locomotive during a celebration from April 28-30. The locomotive may be moved to Atlanta in May.

The story of the Texas, which was built in 1856, made the color scheme choice a bit complicated.

Should the restored locomotive have a Civil War appearance? The fact that much of the existing engine is not original, because of the replacement of nearly all of its working parts over time, would it made it extremely difficult to replicate such a look.

Companies such as the Western & Atlantic at that time had a livery of colors that might include bright red, blue, brown, gold and green wheels and accents. During the Civil War, the Texas likely featured many of those colors -- or others.

In April 1862, James Andrews and his band of Union raiders – having captured the locomotive General -- tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward from Marietta to Chattanooga, Tenn. They were chased by two locomotives, with the Texas running in reverse in the final stretch.

Texas with a different number in 1907 (Atlanta History Center photo)

The raiders achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

The bright-color fad lasted only a few decades. Like thousands of other locomotives, the Texas was converted from burning wood to coal. They didn’t look so fancy when covered in black soot. The Texas was black by 1880, said railroad historian Jim Wilke, and it stayed that way until it ended service in 1907.

The locomotive was saved from the salvage yard and eventually was put on display with the famous painting in a building at Grant Park. The balloon stack and cab, which still has some of its original wood, were painted brown. The wheels and cowcatcher became a bright red. The bands, or belts, around the boiler, the sand dome, some pipes and the valve chests were a dull gold.

As it appeared last summer (Picket photo)

Wilke said he believes artist and historian Wilbur Kurtz did the best he could during the 1930s restoration. Kurtz spoke with people who had memories of the engine, Wilke said. But nuances and precise details may have become lost. Plus, historians have not been able to locate paint schemes for Danforth, Cooke and Company, which manufactured the Texas.

Pousner said officials have not decided what the cowcatcher, or pilot, will look like.

The paint scheme choice is not a total surprise, given AHC officials have touted the Texas’ importance to the commerce of the city after the war.

McQuigg said then that painting the Texas black would be keeping with its appearance for much of its life. “The Civil War is important … but there are other stories as well.”
The locomotive and tender earlier this month (NC Transportation Museum)

Plan for NC Civil War center gains traction

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to support funding of up to $7.5 million for a proposed North Carolina Civil War History Center in Fayetteville. Supporters envision a state-of-the-art, 65,000-square-foot facility that would be dedicated to the Civil War and the following decades, including the civil rights era. • Article

Friday, January 13, 2017

First NPS site focusing on Reconstruction

NPS photo

President Obama has designated three new national monuments devoted to civil rights history, including the first National Park Service site dedicated to Reconstruction. The monument includes several sites near Beaufort, S.C., which fell under Union control in November 1861, and became one of the first places where emancipated slaves voted, bought property and created churches, schools and businesses. • Article

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hagerstown Civil War map goes digital

A Hagerstown, Md., map developed through a partnership between the city and Rose Hill Cemetery has gone digital, offering history buffs a chance to learn about the city's role in the Civil War no matter where they live. By clicking on dots showing historical markers, the online viewer will be able to see a photo and description of the site. Hagerstown was a major staging area for four Civil War campaigns. • Article

Friday, January 6, 2017

'Old War Horse' James Longstreet will be remembered at graveside service

Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was famous among the ranks for the camaraderie, poker games and whiskey that were featured at his camp headquarters during Civil War campaigns.

So it was in remembering that spirit that Richard Pilcher left a cigar at the general’s resting place in Gainesville, Ga., about 35 years ago. It was the anniversary of Longstreet’s death – Jan. 2 – and Pilcher spoke with the sexton at Alta Vista Cemetery.

“He told me there was never any service there and I resolved not to let that happen again,” said Pilcher, former president of the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society, which promotes the controversial officer’s legacy.

The society and a couple of Sons of Confederate Veterans camps for several years sponsored the annual graveside memorial service. About nine years ago, SCV Camp 1860, Blue Ridge Rifles, took over. The Longstreet Society hosts a reception at the Piedmont Hotel (Longstreet’s residence and hotel), featuring hot chocolate and cookies, following the service.

This year’s event is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 15.

The SCV camp customarily has speakers, a prayer and a volley fired by re-enactors. On occasion, music is performed.

“One year they re-enacted the whole funeral from the site of the old courthouse to the cemetery with the ancient, glass-sided, horse-drawn hearse bearing a casket with police blocking streets along the way,” said Pilcher, who today is a society director.

“Old Pete” Longstreet spent the last decades of his life in Gainesville. He lost one wife, a home to fire and married again in his last years. He died at 82 in 1904.

The general's story is, well, complicated.

Controversy about his conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg and his postwar support of the Republican Party, Reconstruction and suffrage for blacks dogged him to his grave. Longstreet in postwar years voiced his opinion that Gen. Robert E. Lee should not have launched the disastrous Day Three attack at Gettysburg.

Advocates of the “Lost Cause” lashed out at him, and said he failed Lee at Gettysburg by delaying the execution of orders.

But many Confederate veterans lionized him and he was popular at reunions, including a notable gathering at Gettysburg in 1888. As Civil War blogger John Banks recently wrote, he attended many events there featuring former Union foes. “No man now in Gettysburg, the New York Sun wrote of Longstreet, “is more honored nor more sought than he.”

The Piedmont Hotel in 2009

As the Picket wrote in 2009, Longstreet’s reputation, especially among military historians, has been more positive in recent years.

William Piston, a history professor at Missouri State University, published “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant” in 1987. The book “reveals how Longstreet became, in the years after Appomattox, the Judas of the Lost Cause, the scapegoat for Lee's and the South's defeat.” 

Many historians and family members portray Longstreet, who was born in South Carolina, as a proud and stubborn warrior who was a truly loyal lieutenant to Lee. 

The general became Lee’s “right hand” during the war and led victorious assaults at Second Manassas and Chickamauga. He may be best known for his notable defensive use of terrain, such as at Fredericksburg.

Alta Vista Cemetery is at 521 Jones St. Longstreet’s grave is in Lot 36. The Piedmont Hotel is at 827 Maple St, also in Gainesville.